Formatting—The Difference Between Mediocre & Magnificent

Image courtesy of Wikimedia

Image courtesy of Wikimedia

Today, I have a lovely guest post from a friend of mine, Travis Simmons. He’s here to enlighten us about one of the “unseen heroes” of book success. I hear a lot of bantering about what is most important for a book to take off and sell LOTS of copies. A great story? A fantastic cover? Editing? Formatting? Thing is, they are ALL important but for very different reasons.

Who cares if we’ve written the next “Great American Novel” if the cover looks like our cousin in junior college slapped it together with a pirated copy of Photoshop? The cover can be great, but if the story (sample pages) reflect amateurish writing? Likely people won’t click to buy. Sure we all make punctuation and grammar errors. A few? Most readers (who aren’t also writers) won’t see them. But, if the prose seems as if we slept through basic high school English?

Houston, we have a problem.

Yes, we all pay great attention to our writing, our cover our editing, but one area we might not think about is formatting. But the devil is in the details and the small things are what can transition our work from mediocre to magnificent. So a BIG thanks to Travis for stopping by and demystifying the unsung hero of the book readers can’t put down….

Take it away!


Image from the movie "Office Space"

Image from the movie “Office Space”

What Exactly IS Book Formatting?

Book formatting is one of the last steps of the publishing process. This is when your document, already edited by those awesome, sometimes ruthless people, is ready to be broken down to what is absolutely necessary for printing and e-book distribution. Formatting is when the document is developed into something that e-book readers and printers can read and kick out into a really professional looking copy.

Why is Formatting Important?

Formatting makes a huge difference having a professionally formatted book as opposed to something that was slapped together in the hopes that it will work out well. There are all kinds of hidden codes the untrained eye can’t see lurking in the depths of your document, waiting to throw a printer off and give you blocks of blank space and gaps at the beginning of paragraphs.

Professional formatting will develop your book, and take away all of those hiccups. The main thing I should stress here is that as a self-publishing author, or even as a small press, you’re contending with big competition. Your book can launch your career, or stall it. Now, this means your entire book from cover, to edit, to formatting.

Imagine for a moment your reader is entranced in a really great scene and suddenly…a HUGE blank space crops up. Your reader’s eyes are no longer flowing the way they were. The reader has to think for a moment about what the heck happened, and the fictive dream is shattered. Issues like this can spell disaster because the reader’s concentration has shifted to something else and away from the forward momentum you’ve built.

Formatting takes care of that. A professional formatter will remove those glaring errors in your book, and give you something your readers will love—a format that flows well and keeps your reader captivated.

How Do You Choose a Formatter?

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Understand what you’re looking for. Do you want print formats? E-book formats? What files are you going to need to upload to your platforms? The formatter should be able to provide you with samples of their work to make sure they provide the quality you’re looking for. They should also allow for corrections. Things might get missed or not look precisely as you want them to. You want a formatter who is going to correct those things.

Pricing shouldn’t be outrageous either. Most people that are going to help you along the way with editing and covering as well as formatting are likely to be other indie authors, so they understand you don’t have a gazillion dollars to spend on services, and their prices should reflect that.

The main thing to take away from this post is that your writing isn’t the only factor reflecting your work. Give your reader the same quality or better than your NYC competitors because that’s what readers expect.

If you are giving them a product that doesn’t meet their standards, that can negatively impact future sales. Be professional and offer the best quality and your readers will love you for it. Now, that doesn’t mean they are going to say, “Wow, that book was wonderfully formatted!” But ignore proper formatting and they will definitely say, “I couldn’t finish that book because the words were all over the page and gave me a headache.”

About Wyrding Ways Press

Wyrding Ways Press offers formatting and beta reading services to self-published authors as well as indie presses. We strive for excellence in all we do, and our work with indie-publishers has helped hone our skills. If you have any questions please feel free to contact us via our website or social media outlets. Thank you so much for reading our guest post!


Thank YOU, Travis. I was blessed to have a premium formatter and I know that it made a crucial difference. Formatters can also add in images, hyperlinks and all kinds of cool add-ons to heighten the reading experience. In my latest social book Rise of the Machines, my formatter embedded all kinds of hyperlinks to make it easy for readers to ‘travel’ beyond my book to Twitter, etc. Just this small detail made an incredible difference.

We appreciate your post! Feel free to comment or ask questions. I can only keep Travis chained in my panel van so along before someone files a Missing Person’s Report 😀 .

Travis’s Information is below:





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  1. Thank you so much! This was a really fun experience!

  2. Good to know I am not the only one who obsesses about type-setting. I was beginning to sink under the waves of people suggesting readers don’t care about widows-and-orphans, dashes, and such.

    They might not actively care about the presence of certain formatting, but I am certain they unconsciously notice the absence.

    1. I completely agree!

  3. Q. How does one become a formatter?

    1. For me it was just something I really enjoyed doing and studied until I got good at it 😀

  4. Love it! I’ve been involved in various journalism, layout, and such since high school (39 years ago). I know about those layout things and *I* don’t do my own layouts, I pay for it. That way I know what is done is done right and there won’t be any surprises. And my layout guy does all formats for me, epub, mobi, pdf, and the various “different” mobi and epub tailored to various websites. And they do the print layout. I’m obnoxious because I’m using chapter charms (little pictures) instead of naming each chapter and he doesn’t bat an eye.

    Also, get your cover done by a professional. You would not believe how bad some indie covers are. I did my first cover, bought the artwork, did the layouts and such. It was a royal pain in the tail. Book 2, I picked out the illustration and then shipped it, with the layout details, to someone who knows more than just a little photoshop/gimp.

    Thank you for the guest post!

    1. YES! It’s so important that you put as much work into the appearance of your book as you do the story. If it looks sloppy, people automatically think you don’t care!

  5. Reblogged this on Kentucky Mountain Girl News and commented:
    KMGN: Thought you would enjoy this. I did.

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

    • Monica on September 30, 2014 at 1:22 pm
    • Reply

    As a print production manager, I raise my glass to this post. 🙂 Thanks for your insight!

    1. Of course! Thanks for taking the time to read it.

    • erikaviktor on September 30, 2014 at 2:38 pm
    • Reply

    I really liked this post and will save the info for future reference. Speaking about the publishing industry rather than self-pubbing, there is a huge amount of thought that goes into typesetting and layout and the people who do it are trained (i.e. they know stuff we don’t) and nothing smacks as “newbie” more than botching time-tested practices to get your e-book out asap. Thanks for the post, I will be checking them out!

    1. I think a lot of people tend to put their foot in it when they are starting out “oh, I will make this cover myself!” or “Pfft, I’ve read it 5 times, why do I need an editor?” But yes, it’s very important to get professionals if you can’t do it yourself 🙂 Thanks for taking the time to read my article.

  6. I’ve seen some terrible formatting in my time. I’ve also seen some EXCELLENT formatting. I also know for a fact that some of these examples (good and bad) were produced through Scrivener.
    I’d love to know what you think, Travis, about Scrivener as a means to format your ebook yourself.

    1. Yes, this was going to be my question, as well. I love Scrivener for organizing and writing my book, but it seems “too good to be true” that it would also make self-publishing a snap.

      1. Hear that, Travis? Sounds like a new post opportunity to me! 😉

    2. Oh no, I thought I’d already responded to this. I haven’t had any experience with Scrivener, though I’d love to use it for writing since my desk is pretty much overrun with post-its. I can only imagine that the software takes your document and just converts it as is to the files you need. If it hasn’t been set up right before conversion I’m sure it would make some people sad. 😀 Have you used Scrivener? I really should get it for my writing.

      1. As with any product that claims to take the worry out of E-book formatting, Scrivener requires some care and well, worry. There are a lot of different E-book platforms and readers out there. Some of the “worry-free” programs are good starting points, some are worse-than-useless, but none absolve a writer or editor from the need to check things out on several devices and with several settings. Readers do crazy things, and a well-formatted E-book will roll with the punches.

        1. That makes sense to me. Often too good to be true is exactly that.

      2. I (now) use it to write in and find it miles better than Word. It has saved me many times too, as it pretty much saves my work every time I stop typing. Loosing data is a thing of the past.
        And the ability to roll back (should I need to) is one that I’m sure I’ll make more use of as I progress.
        But for formatting, I’ve always gone to someone else.
        Maybe it’s worth testing it myself, checking what it can do.

        1. I’m really interested in trying it out now. I like what I’ve heard about the notes and being able to move things around so they fit better.

  7. Great informative article. Thanks!
    I would love to know why formatting is so silly?
    One would think you could get it all set up in a simple word doc and go from there. But there IS nothing worse then reading anything and it is all out of whack.
    SO I shall be saving the pennies for ONE day – when we reach that stage of the journey. LONG way to go yet 🙂
    Thanks again! – I really thought one could just do it all oneself.

    1. The best thing about this response is when you said “I really thought I could just do it all oneself.” I think a lot of authors (myself included) don’t really research a lot about self-publishing before they jump in feet first and THEN realize they’ve made a huge error. It’s awesome that you are learning before, it will make your work shine! Just keep plugging away at your book, you will get there. AND, if you have any questions about the journey, I’d love to help you out.

      1. Thanks for the response!
        I decided to research as much as possible before leaping into the writing ‘The Book’. Did the first chapter and kinda went…’this is going to take some time, do I know enough to do this?’ …and so began my blog- to test waters. (ofcourse!) then I read, and read and read and read – everything and anything to TRY learn the art and industry.
        I practice ofcourse too! (well actually I just like writing blogposts because they are fun) and then browse some more…and I keep stumbling on things that tell me…not just yet…just now…still some things to get my head around 😉
        Thank you so much for the encouragement…and the kind offer. SO much to consider really. Getting it all lined up is …phew…
        Any day though – chapter two awaits.

        1. You’ve done so much more starting out than I think a lot of people have, you deserve the encouragement. The best thing is to never give up and keep plugging, no matter how overwhelming it all seems. 😀

          1. Thank you kindly! (again 😀 )
            …and – I shall do just that.

  8. Interesting post. Even more interesting is the fact that I am reading a book right now that has issues. This isn’t even a self-published book. It is a book that was produced by a large well-known publisher. I’m only a quarter of the way into the book but three different times now the last sentence of the chapter has simply been cut off-mid sentence-no punctuation. They clearly left it up to our imaginations to finish these sentences. (Which I have one, and that I do use, just not while I’m reading another book for fun.) So I suppose it can happen to anyone. Good thing to pay attention to.

    1. This is frustrating to me. I was re-reading a favorite of mine, freshly done on the kindle, and it was all messed up. It was something I’d read in paperback when I was a teen, so I was ecstatic to see it on kindle. Big publisher. BIG formatting issues. Where the thoughts are normally italicized, they ran the italics on for paragraphs sometimes, right through action and such. Now, I don’t think that’s so much a formatting error, but they also split sentences in two so the beginning was at the

      end of a paragraph and the end of the sentence at the start of another. Kinda like this 😛

  9. Thank you Kristen for highlighting the unsung heroes such as Travis Simmons who can make our break our books. 🙂
    The Big Five’s formatting quality of late has been variable, more so for mass market paperbacks and back catalog reissues. Large hardcover books seem to be the only area where their formatting standards are as drum-tight as they used to be a decade or two ago.
    And I didn’t mention their e-book formatting… 😈

    1. Thank you! Yes, I’ve seen some of their ebook formatting and it really surprises me! This is a place where indies can really shine!

  10. If we could afford it, we’d all have the magnificent level, but there is also the elegantly simple level, that has none the things that scream amateur but that the self-publisher on a tight budget can afford or do themselves. I swear by Scrivener. I’ve seen formatting errors in big six books too, but maybe if they used Scrivener, they wouldn’t have them. It’s simple and produces a good looking product. There are some traps you can fall into though (it took me a while to work out why I had some blank pages) but once you’ve got your system down, it’s the perfect tool.

    I’m not trying to take your business, Travis, just being aware that there are different budget levels in self-publishing. Some people are doing it as a hobby and using money they have saved after years in corporate business, others of us have been artists all our lives and have to keep our costs right down, but a small budget does not have to mean poor quality.

    1. Oh, of course! Whatever helps out authors 😀 I know there are some out there that simply get overwhelmed with everything that needs to be done, and a lot of time when they get close to the finish line they have a desire to rush things, and that’s when we need to look at the details closer.

  11. very good info!

    1. Thanks! 🙂

  12. Great post that made me cringe when I think about my 1st book…I really embodied the art of what not to do when formatting a book. Honestly I was just so excited to finally have my book completed that it went straight from word doc to print; yeah, that bad. Travis said it best when he wrote how the readers concentration is lost due to a huge gap in between paragraphs. If this happens once it’s definitely a momentum killer. Twice and the reader is think the book has to be self published. A third time and the book is put down for a good friend the remote. But as time heals all wounds so does learned and applied knowledge. I got the proper software, InDesign, and lets just say now when I have to properly format a book the beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Thanks Travis for a great and informative blog; reminding all authors not only should your story flow, but also the way it’s presented to the reader should be seamless as well.

  1. […] Formatting—The Difference Between Mediocre & Magnificent | Kristen Lamb’s Blog. […]

  2. […] Agent Janet Reid discusses whether or not authors should spend money on a publicist or publicity, Betty Kelly Sargent shares 7 tips for metadata magic to help sell your book, and Travis Simmons explains how professional book formatting can make your book stand out. […]

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